23 February 2014

Moonless waters that stretched forever


                   by Philip Levine

Let me begin again as a speck
of dust caught in the night winds
sweeping out to sea. Let me begin
this time knowing the world is
salt water and dark clouds. The world
is grinding and sighing all night, and dawn
comes slowly and changes nothing. Let
me go back to land after a lifetime
of going nowhere. This time lodged
in the feathers of some scavenging gull
white above the black ship that docks
and broods upon the oily waters of
your harbor. This leaking freighter
has brought a hold full of hayforks
from Spain great jeroboams of dark
Algerian wine, and quill pens that can't
write English. The sailors have stumbled
off toward the bars or the bright houses.
The captain closes his log and falls asleep.
1/10/'28/. Tonight I shall enter my life
after being at sea for ages quietly
in a hospital named for an automobile.
The one child of millions of children
who has flown alone by the stars
above the black wastes of moonless waters
that stretched forever, who has turned
golden in the full sun of a new day.
A tiny wise child who this time will love
his life because it is like no other.

16 February 2014

Shining even to the closed eye

                             by Tess Gallagher


I don't know now if it was kindness -- we do
and we do. But I wanted you with me
that day in the cool raspberry vines, before
I had loved anyone, when another girl and I
saw the owner's son coming to lift away
our heaped flats of berries. His white shirt outside his jeans so
tempting. That whiteness, that quick side-glance
in our direction. So we said nothing,
but quickly gathered all the berries we could, losing
some in our mirth and trampling them
like two black ponies who only want to keep their backs
free, who only want to be shaken with
the black night-in-day murmur of hemlocks
high above. our slim waists, our buds
of breasts and red stain of raspberries cheapening
our lips. We were sudden, we were
two blurred dancers who didn't need paradise. his shirt,
his white shirt when the pelting ended, as if
we had kissed him until his own blood
opened. So we refused every plea and
were satisfied. And you didn't touch me then, just
listened to the cool silence after. Inside,
the ripe hidden berries as we took up our wicker baskets
and lost our hands past the wrists
in the trellised vines. Just girls with the arms of
their sweaters twisted across their hips
in mottled sunlight, that girl you can almost
remember now as she leans into the vine,
following with pure unanswerable desire, a boy
going into the house to change his shirt.


He always liked to pour his darkness into
his light. The stupor of my moonbeam there too, its
hapless funneling
in the night-thickened house.

Then my childhood friend
who's been staying awake for me, left the house
so I could be alone with the powerful raft of his body,
that entryway.

I talked to him, told him things I needed to hear myself
tell him, and he listened, I can say "peacefully,"
thought maybe it was only an effect he had, the body's surety
when it becomes one muscle. Still, I believe I heard
my own voice then, as he might have heard it, eagerly
like the nostrils of any mare blowing softly over
the damp presence he was, telling it
all is safe here, all is calm and yet to be
endured here where you are gone from.

Since his feet were still there and my hands
I rubbed his feet, because it is hard to imagine
at first that the dead don't enjoy those same things
they did when alive. And even if it was only a last thing, it
was the right last thing.

What is forever beyond speech
pulls action out of us, and if it is only childlike and
unreceived, the way a child hums to the stick
it is using to scratch houses into the dirt, it is a silky
membrane and shining even to
the closed eye.

Tess Gallagher, Nine Poems, The American Poetry Review, January/February 1992.

09 February 2014

Angels, where were you?


                     by Maxine Kumin

Taking off at sunset over the city
it seems we pull the sun up
and pin it over the rim
or is it the other way round,
is it the horizon we push down
like a loose cuticle?
I am up here grieving, tallying
my losses, and I think how once,
the world was flat and rested on
the back of a giant fish whose tail
was in his mouth and on the Day
of Judgment all the sinners fell
overboard into the black gulf.
Once we walked distances
or went by horse and knew our places
on the planet, gravity-wise.

Now angels, God's secret agents,
I am assured by Billy Graham, circulate among us to tell
the living they are not alone.
On twenty-four-hour duty, angels
flutter around my house and barn
blundering into the cobwebs,
letting pots boil over
or watching the cat torture
a chipmunk When my pony,
filching apples, rears and catches
his halter on a branch and hangs
himself all afternoon, I like
to think six equine angels fan 
the strangling beast
until his agony is past.

Who knows how much or little
anyone suffers? Animals
are honest through their inability
to lie. Man, in his last hour,
has a compulsion to come clean.
Death is the sacred criterion.
Always it is passion that
confuses the issue. Always
I think that no one
can be sadder than I am.
For example, now, watching
this after-sunset
in the sky on top of Boston
I am wanting part of my life back
so I can do it over.
So I can do it better.

Angels, where were you when
by best friend did herself in?
Were you lunching beside us
that final noon, did you catch
some nuance that went past my ear?"
Did you ease my father out
of his cardiac arrest that wet
fall day I sat at the high crib bed
holding his hand? And when
my black-eyed susan-child ran
off with her European lover
and has been ever since an unbelonger,
were you whirligiging over
the suitcases? Did you put
your imprimature on
that death-by-separation?

It's no consolation, angels,
knowing you're around
helplessly observing like
some sacred CIA. Even
if you're up here, flattened
against the Fasten Your Seatbelt sign
or hugging the bowl in the lavatory,
we are, each one of us, our own
prisoner. We are
locked up in our own story.

From Maxine Kumin, Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief: New and Selected Poems (1982).

02 February 2014

Generous ghosts must walk that house at night

A Mild-Spoken Citizan Finally Writes to the
White House

                    by William Meredith

Please read this letter when you are alone.
Don't be afraid to listen to what may change you.
I am urging on you only what I myself have done.

Int he first place, I respect the office, although one night
last spring, when you had committed (in my eyes)
criminal folly, and there was a toast to you, I wouldn't rise.

A man's mistakes (if I may lecture you), his worst acts,
aren't out of character, as he'd like to think,
are not put on him by power or stress or too much to drink,

but are simply a worse self he consents to be. Thus
there is no mistaking you. I marvel that there's
so much disrespect for a man just being himself, being his errors.

'I never met a worse man than myself'
Thoreau said. When we're our best selves, we can all
afford to say that. Self-respect is vest when marginal.

And when the office of the presidency will again
accommodate that remark, it may be held by better men
than you or me. Meantime I hear there is music in your house,

your women wear queens' wear, though winds howl outside,
and I say, that's all right, the man should have some ease,
but does anyone say to your face who you really are"

No, they say Mr. President, while any young person
feels free to call me voter, believer, even causer.
And if I were also a pray-er, a man given to praying,

(I'm often in fact careless about great things, like you)
and I wanted to pray for your office, as in fact I do,
the words that would come to me would more likely be

god change you than god bless the presidency.
I would pray, God cause the President to change.
As I myself have been changed, first my head, then my heart,

so that I no longer pretend that I don't swindle or kill
when there is swindling and killing on my nation's part.
Well. Go out into your upstairs hall tonight with this letter.

Generous ghosts must walk that house at night,
carrying draughts of the Republic like cold water
to a man parched after too much talk and wine and smoke.

Hear them. They are elected ghosts, though some wil be radicals
and all may want to tell you things you will not like.
It will seem dark in the carpeted hall, despite the nightlights

in the dull sconces. Make the guard let you pass.
'If you are the President,' a shade with a water glass
will ask you (and this is all I ask), calling you by name,

himself perhaps a famous name, 'If you are the President
and things in the land have come to all this shame,
why don't you try doing something new? This building rose

laborious as a dream, to house one character:
man trusting man anew. That's who each tenant is
-- or an imposter, as some of us have been.'